October 8th, 2010
10:47 AM ET

Thrill seekers vs. comfort creatures: Sexual compatibility

I have a confession: I may be a sex therapist, but my own sex life is pretty ordinary. Don’t get me wrong—my relationship with my wife is amazing. But if you think my line of work automatically means that we like to visit swingers' clubs or have mirrors on the ceiling of our bedroom, think again. Sexually speaking, my wife and I are both “comfort creatures,” and that suits us just fine.

We’re not alone. In my experience, there are two types of people when it comes to sex: comfort creatures and thrill seekers. The former tend to prefer to keep sex within the comfort of their own homes, with one partner, sticking to a few tried and true positions and routines. And as the name suggests, thrill seekers are just the opposite. They want new positions and toys, different partners or locations, and more sex. In general, a couple made up of two comfort creatures or two thrill seekers has it easy:  They’re on the same page, sexually.

But what happens when a comfort creature falls for a thrill seeker, or vice versa?

It’s more common than you think, but most couples don’t realize that they’re mismatched until much further along in their relationship. That’s because, in the beginning, you’ve both been hijacked by a potent neurochemical cocktail of “infatuation hormones” that’s responsible for your constant canoodling—and that masks any differences in the bedroom. You’re so busy getting busy that you probably won’t notice potential sexual incompatibility until your infatuation starts to wane.

These hormones can also mask other differences in a relationship, from how often you like to have sex to whether or not you enjoy public displays of affection. According to Psychology Today, one factor that may prove unifying or divisive to a couple is the degree to which their nervous systems are naturally inclined to pursue novel and stimulating experiences. Says Marvin Zuckerman, a psychologist at the University of Delaware: "A person's inherent need for sensation is not necessarily obvious in the early stages of a relationship, when love itself is a novelty and carries its own thrills– It's when the sex becomes routine that problems occur."

Sexual incompatibility can have a real impact on your relationship. Maybe you crave sex every day, but your partner is perfectly content with doing it once a month. Perhaps your significant other loves to talk about sex, while the very word makes you blush. Are you destined to break up?

Not necessarily. The brain is our biggest and most powerful sex organ, and it’s completely possible for sexually incompatible couples to have very compatible relationships. The key to success is communication: Talk with your partner about your sex life, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you, and agree to make some compromises. Comfort creatures can venture out of their shells a bit, and thrill seekers can focus on the benefits within their existing relationship.

One fun way to do this? Take a tip from a recent study at the University of British Columbia and harness the power of fantasy. Researchers found that longtime couples were best able to rekindle romance by pretending they were strangers on a first date. So experiment with wigs and different outfits, assume an alias, and meet your partner at a local restaurant or bar for a rendezvous. You’ll get variety and safety—and a hot new way to compromise.

Ian Kerner is a sexuality counselor and New York Times best-selling author. Read more from him at his website, GoodInBed.

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